River Mersey Railway Tunnel

Although parliamentary permission to build a standard two-track railway between Liverpool and the Wirral under the River Mersey was obtained in 1871, it was some nine years later before the funds were available. Within 12 months of starting, the original contractors got into financial difficulties and the work was taken over by Major Samual Isaac. Although he had little engineering experience, he was known for his ability to solve difficult problems and, in return for a large stake in the company, he agreed to meet all costs until the he could recover them from the profits from the line's use.

A drilling machine invented by Colonel Beaumont of the Royal Engineers was used to bore a pilot hole through the rock under the river and the main tunnel was excavated manually with explosives and picks and shovels.

The original line ran from Green Lane in Birkenhead to James Street in Liverpool. It was opened by the Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VII) in 1886. In 1888 a branch line to Birkenhead Park was built and, in 1891, the Green Lane line was extended several miles to Rock Ferry.

By 1890, the tunnel was carrying over 10 million passengers a year but there was still competition from the combined services of the surface electric trams and the ferry from Woodside, which many people thought to be considerably healthier than breathing the steam and smoke-laden fumes on the underground railway. To combat this, in 1903, the Mersey Railway became the first steam railway in the world to change over entirely to electric power.